Leinster hoping to hit bullseye during crucial games
Opportunities there to be grasped for fringe and younger players in critical stage of season
HQ has been a strange place this week. With a lot of the bigger personalities away on international duty, the dressing rooms are a lot quieter.
Luckily, the likes of Brendan Macken and Ben Te'o are around to fill the void. The two lads are always full of energy and tall tales which keeps things interesting.
There has also been a bit of a facelift in HQ. As part of that we recently got a new dart board which is keeping the squad busy in between sessions. Playing everything from 501 to Around the World, it's a good way to pass the time.
I don't think Phil 'the Power' Taylor will have any competition rising from within the Leinster camp to trouble him in the PDC any time soon, but a few of the lads are improving quite quickly. I think Rhys 'the Racoon' Ruddock is using darts as a rehab tool for his arm. He's rarely off the board these days but if it helps with his recovery ...
We were given last week off and it was nice to have a few days away from the environment to recharge the batteries. It's been a long block of games the last few months, including three high-profile Christmas and New Years inter-pros, and the intensity only increased over the last few weeks.
It was a tough schedule with the culmination being the two Champions Cup games against Castres and Wasps so it was a welcome break. A few of the boys headed off to get some vitamin D, going as far afield as Dubai and Thailand. Fortunately, I can get enough colour from a 60-watt bulb so I kept it local.
I hit the road and travelled down to Cork to cheer on St Mary's against Cork Con. In recent years Mary's have had a good record down there but this was my first time as a supporter watching the Star get a win over one of the best clubs in All-Ireland League history.
It was back to work on Monday though and we were quickly brought back to reality. Due to the structure of the Pro12, there are a couple of non-game weeks and they are used to get a good block of strength and conditioning work in along with some extra skill sessions. The S&C staff at Leinster are among the best in world rugby. They always keep us on our toes by switching up our programmes.
Particularly in non-game weeks they try make the fitness side as enjoyable and competitive as possible. They put us into teams competing solely for bragging rights. This drives everyone to work to their maximum potential. Effort hasn't been an issue this week but certain players have been posting some "creative" scores in the daily competitions at the start of the week. I've a feeling a stewards' enquiry is in order!
After a solid week of work, it will be back to a normal game week prep next week. We're looking to make a big push up the league during the international window. Last year we earned 19 out of a possible 20 points. It was during this period last year that we really stamped our authority on the league and it set us up for a strong finish.
It's one thing saying it, it's another thing entirely getting those wins. First up is the Dragons on Sunday week in the RDS. We have had a couple of tough battles with them over the years and while they haven't been on a great run in the Pro12 this season, they have won five from six in the Challenge Cup and are through to the quarter-finals in that competition. They've beaten Stade Francais twice and Newcastle Falcons away from home so they won't fear a trip to the RDS. We have to be wary but ultimately like always we will focus on ourselves as much as anything and will hope to perform to the best of our abilities.
The international window is also a great opportunity for younger squad members to get some game time. It was this time last year that Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan made their debuts and you look at them both now knocking on the Irish door.
It's always interesting to look at the lads in training and to see who might be the ones to step up and grab that opportunity. I look at the Academy lads in training and you know that some of them will make that impact over the next few games. Best of luck to them!